So you went in for your 6-week postpartum check up and they cleared you for sex – wahoo! But is that how you really feel about it? I know I didn’t, and I’m sure I’m not alone. It’s time we have a conversation about the REAL truths regarding postpartum sex and what to expect.
The thought of postpartum sex can stir up so many emotions for women – exhaustion, not wanting one more person to touch you, fear, and dread. Between sleep deprivation, postpartum blues, postpartum depression, possible birth trauma and raging hormones, this can leave many of us feeling like sex isn’t too high up on our priority list. I promise that it won’t be this way forever but before we get to that point, let’s have some real talk about postpartum sex.
Postpartum is a quest back to yourself. Alone in your body again. You will never be the same, you are stronger than you were. – Amethyst Joy
1. Postpartum sex might hurt – at first
Not to scare you, but it can be painful to have sex postpartum. Right after birth women experience a significant shift in hormones causing a decrease in estrogen levels. Estrogen provides elasticity to the vaginal tissues, which drop right after birth and while women breastfeed. The decease in estrogen plus the increase of prolactin and oxytocin mimics menopause for the first two to three months. Women often report vaginal dryness, hot flashes, sweating, and pain.
As if the above doesn’t deter you enough from feeling like sex, add to the fact that many women experience trauma during birth. If you’ve torn, have a laceration or had an episiotomy, many women feel even more nervous around the thought of sex. Cheryl Beck, Nursing Professor at the University of Connecticut, conducted a study and found that up to 34% of women experience some sort of trauma during childbirth (Beck 2008). Many women experience symptoms of PTSD symptoms, anxiety and/or depression, if this doesn’t resolve on it’s own, please seek professional help.
2. It might not feel the same
And this doesn’t just apply to women that had vaginal deliveries, although they may experience more trauma than women that had a c-section. But in general, you might have to be a little creative to figure out what positions are going to work best for you right now. Not necessarily forever.
3. Your boobs might leak
Yep, nothing will make you feel sexier than milk leaking while you’re trying to do the deed. What can I say, it’s just a fact and there’s not much you can do about it – just laugh!
4. Fatigue is keeping your sex drive low
Multiple feedings per night and only sleeping for 2-3 hours at a time will leave most of us exhausted and not feeling at the height of our sexual prowess. On top of that, when we are experiencing fatigue and exhaustion this can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, just know that high levels of oxytocin suppress your libido, and for good reason! It’s your body’s way of preventing a pregnancy too soon.
5. A decrease in sexual desire is common
While it’s not talked about often enough, you are certainly not alone in feelings of decreased desire. In fact, sex is a postpartum care whether you realize it or not! Multiple factors are compounding to cause these feelings: fatigue, vaginal dryness, pain, exhaustion, birth trauma, and decreased levels of estrogen all cause us to feel less than frisky.
Above all please remember that YOU’RE NORMAL FOR FEELING THIS WAY.
If it worries you, remember that for most women these feelings resolve after a few months but if they don’t, you can explore options for professional help from your OB-GYN, Women’s Health Physical Therapist, and/or a Sex Therapist. They often work as a team to help you with whatever problem you are experiencing.
Step number 1: Re–establish your relationship with your own body. Check in with yourself often: how do you feel like you’re healing? Do you have pain? Are you uncomfortable with changes you see in your body? Feeling confident in your own body and having a positive body image is the MOST impactful road block for many women and their sexual desire, it’s natural that this is going to be even more challenging when you’re postpartum. Give yourself some grace and recognize that this might just take some time.
Step number 2: Recognize that your sexual identity now also includes the title of mom. Many women have a hard time reestablishing their identity in motherhood, but take time to care for you and your need and to remember that your sexuality matters!
6. Everyone get off me
Am I the only one that felt this way? Our body is producing that feel good hormone – oxytocin – when we’re holding our baby’s, but for many women they don’t want to be touched much more beyond that. After nursing off and on all night, holding a baby a majority of the day, potentially taking care of other little ones, it doesn’t leave many of us with a strong desire to touch even more.
The good news is that for many couples this will get better when the baby develops a better sleep schedule and can begin to entertain themselves for longer periods of time allowing the care providers to get other stuff done besides holding baby all day.
7. Feeling sexy can be a challenge
It’s no secret that it can be very hard to embrace our new postpartum body. Sleep deprivation, too much touch, pain, everything feeling different, breast tenderness and leakage – it can be so hard to feel like a sexual being at all. But I promise you that as long as you keep the lines of communication open with your partner, they just want YOU. Try to get out of your own head and enjoy the intimacy with your partner.
BUT IT’S NOT ALL GLOOM AND DOOM!
While the general guideline is for women to wait until the 6-week check up to return to sex, research shows that 26% of women have intercourse before their check up. If you are among this group of women, make sure you have a provider that is comfortable talking to you about sexuality as this topic is often overlooked during your postpartum check-up. This includes discussions of birth control options, pain, support system, mental health check up, and anything else that feels relevant to YOU.
And remember this good news – recent research shows that childbirth does not affect women’s long term sexual functioning! Key points to remember as you return to sex: reestablish your relationship with your own body FIRST, take it slow, talk to your partner about what feels good and what doesn’t, USE LUBRICANT, warm up with foreplay, increase blood flow and begin gently working on your pelvic floor, and talk to your medical provider about different options if your pain is persistent.
“I think we need to make room for thinking broadly about women’s sexuality in the postpartum period, as a part of positive lifelong sexuality but also as a positive part of the postpartum experience,” researcher Sari van Anders, a behavioral endocrinologist at the University of Michigan.